City leaders respond after Gov. McAuliffe’s outfalls deadline decision

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By James Cullum | jcullum@alextimes.com

City officials are reeling after Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law a bill that will require Alexandria to have its aged sewer system outfalls updated by 2025.

It was an outcome that city leaders were making efforts to avoid, including sending a formal written request for McAuliffe to veto the bill after the State Senate rejected his proposed amendment that would have extended the city’s deadline to 2027.

House Bill 2383 and Senate Bill 898 require that Alexandria remediate its four combined sewer outfalls by July 1, 2025 – two years before their requested deadline.

“We appreciate the governor’s earlier efforts to substitute a more reasonable deadline, and we remain fully committed to getting all four outfalls in Alexandria done, and to getting them done right,” said Mayor Allison Silberberg in a statement. “While we are moving full steam ahead, we are very concerned that this legislation requires a deadline engineers have indicated is not feasible.”

Alexandria Vice Mayor Justin Wilson echoed Silberberg’s sentiment, saying the 2025 timeline is impossible.

“It’s clearly disappointing,” said Alexandria Vice Mayor Justin Wilson. “The city spends a lot of money to address the obligations that the state doesn’t meet in other areas, like education, public safety, health. This just adds another thing to the list… It’s unfortunate they have created a timeline that is largely impossible, but we will make do with what we do, with a General Assembly and governor’s office that has forgotten their their obligation to local government. It is what is is.”

While the vast majority of the city has separate sewer systems, around 540 acres in Old Town is served by a single pipe, or combined sewer, which dates back to the 1800s and sends an estimated 70 million gallons of raw sewage, waste and rainwater into the Potomac nearly every time it rains. The city, in December, sent the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality its Long Term Control Plan, initially setting a 2035 completion date for the outfalls.

City Manager Mark Jinks’ capital budget proposal includes $386 million to be spent on the outfalls over the next decade, which will be paid for mainly by a gradual 500 percent increase in city sewer fees.

The city is assuming $54 million in state aid for the project and a number of legislators, including State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Del. Mark Levine (D-45), have pledged to introduce bills to help fund the project in the General Assembly’s session next year.

1 COMMENT

  1. The public needs to understand the basic facts on this issue, and unfortunately the article gets it wrong on a major point – the Plan the City sent to the Department of Environmental Quality in December did not include any plan to address Outfall 001, the 70 million gallon a year raw sewage discharge into the Potomac. It only addressed the other 3 discharge points, which dump into nearby tributaries of the river. OUtfall 001 was slated for further study, with no concrete plans to address it until the late 2030s. The city and state’s initial failure to address the Potomac discharge is what led Potomac Riverkeeper to get involved and push the city and state to come up with a holistic plan to deal with all its untreated sewage problems in a reasonable timeframe. State environmental regulators were unwilling to require quicker action, so Senator Surovell and others stepped in to work on the problem. Potomac Riverkeeper hired an independent consultant to review the feasibility of a 2025 deadline, and he determined it was achievable. The city’s engineers disagree. Instead of continuing to complain about unjust treatment, we hope the city will immediately start to work with state regulators to develop a plan and carry it out. Potomac Riverkeeper will fully support a strong plan to end raw sewage discharges into the Potomac, and will support the city’s efforts to obtain funding to help pay for it.
    Phillip Musegaas – Vice President of Programs and Litigation, Potomac Riverkeeper

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